Business Concepts

Clouds with a silver lining

If you care to remember, beginning 2010 I wrote about our search for a better CRM program (going beyond AWeber etc)
We settled for Octane HQ, at that moment in time a great 2nd Generation program which suited the bill perfectly (then and there). Before Octane HQ we (you and me) were more used to 1st generation software programs, the ones you had to install on your own PC (or Mac).

Second Generation Programs (in my opinion) didn't involve any downloading or installation on your pc, they are online, hosted by the software maker and accessible where-ever you have an internet connection. Octane HQ did what we wanted it to do but that was/is all. Lately I had the feeling it was overtaken left, right and centre by 3rd Generation Programs - online AND able to "talk" to other online programs:

Cloud Computing - API

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(image courtesy of spiral-fotolia.com)

Application Programming Interface (API) enabled online software is what I call 3rd Generation Software. Each program does what is does best - just like Octane HQ - but the main difference is it "talks" to other programs. Reducing the time and effort for business owners to enter duplicate data from one (online) program into another.

End of last year - on Kashflow's forum - I encountered Alex Monaghan, who asked me if I would be interested in a program that would enter all new Ecwid orders straight into my bookkeeping program Kashflow. Now this already happened (partly) when my client paid using Paypal, but all other payment options resulted in having to enter all the data manually (both in Kashflow and in Octane HQ).

Alex reported last week that his KFSync was ready to test out and the ease of how seamlessly it worked made me wonder about the effectiveness of Octane HQ. Surely in this time and age there would be a better - automagical - system to use?

Looking at Kashflow's Integration Pages it brought me onto Capsule CRM - which when you look at their Addons & Integration Page you'll see various well known programs. That, plus the price of the program itself, sold me and I was off to start the new process of filling Capsule CRM during the 30 days free trial, connecting the programs I needed for our business one by one.

My new "API Cloud"

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Imagine Capsule as Main Program (where I register opportunities and manage our - growing band of - contacts) I've tried to visualise above how the API integration works.

Let me "walk you" through various scenarios to explain how everything connects:

  1. Suppose someone comes to our website (a Joomla site, online software with its own add-ons, components and extensions), reads our informative pages and decides to place an order in our secure webshop (Ecwid widgets installed as plug-in), selecting phone payment as payment option.
  2. The order is processed in Ecwid, through the KFSync lands within a few seconds in Kashflow and through Kashflow a few seconds later in Capture CRM (*1) - both programs checking if it is a new client or a new order from an existing client.
  3. I then check in Capsule if the new client is already on one of the mailing lists in MailChimp and if not I click one button in Capsule to add this person to the appropriate list
  1. Now suppose another person visits our website and requests one of our additional information filling in one of the Wufoo webforms.
  2. His/her details land automagically in Capsule (with the added tag of Lead)
  3. And sends the same details to MailChimp who emails the requested information.
  4. This person then places an order over the phone, and all I have to do is fill in the address details in Capsule and click the link "export to Kashflow" to create the invoice in the bookkeeping program.
  1. Another person used our Support Desk (Zendesk) to ask us a question, through the added Capsule App in Zendesk I can simply export the details to Capsule (and when this person then places an order click the same link to export to Kashflow) and again add them to the appropriate MailChimp list.

If you are wondering why Alive Docs is added, that is a simple program that can contact Capsule in the event you want to mail merge letters etc (letters to be emailed or posted - where posted means the mail merge is emailed to yourself as PDF)

Besides saving me time and effort, all these connecting programs will save me money too (in the end). So, definitely Clouds with a Silver Lining

*1 = do note that Capsule considers every contact coming in from Kashflow an Organization and not - as so many of our clients are - as a person. If you, like me, want to register them as person you'll have to correct this manually in Capsule - which gives me the opportunity to add the odd person to a "Case" - a great feature in this software program to remind yourself of things to print, call etc per contact.


Brand (mis)match, blur, blur, blur

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When one of the big supermarkets proclaims to Brand Match the price of their competitors, the first thing which comes to mind is that in fact they - Sainsbury in this case - are actually telling me:

Our prices have been too high for a long time

 

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IMHO it is a brand mismatch:

  • you go to Sainsbury because this company is regarded as being of higher quality (just like Waitrose is perceived as);
  • you go to Tesco or Asda because these two are always trying to win "we're the cheapest" game, not quality (perceived quality).

Is Sainsbury joining this game now and by doing so "re-branding" themselves for the sake of market share? Blur, blur, blur

What do you think?


Experiment - a manifest, with a twist

This week I've launched a new blog, a new experiment.

For a few months now I've been trying to put my thoughts and ideas (and in other words, grumbles) on the existing state of the economy on paper as a kind of "manifest": why these things seem to happen in deepening cycles and how/why there has to be another way in business, life, community and society. Like I said, a kind of manifest.
To cut a long story short: none of my trial versions passed muster in my own eyes. Too much to tell, explain, show a different way. I failed to put all of it into a comprehensive - and readable - paper.

It would come out as gobbledygook, and no one would have a clue what it was all about I'm trying to tell. I'd almost given up on the idea, because if something is worth doing, it's worth doing well - and I was not getting anywhere doing it even half decent.

Combining ideas

Then, two weeks ago, my "love for combining" brought the solution:

For many years I have this story in my head I always thought I would write down some day (when I'm old and retired?). The story is not another business novel like my first ever paperback publication (of which this blog is a spin-off): "The Kiss Business, the Keep It Simple Sweetheart principle in business".
No, this time it' going to be a different genre, one I've always been a great fan of, even since childhood: science fiction.

Why not combine the two? The outline of the SF story has been in my head for years now, but not (yet) set in stone, just the general gist of which characters and which adventures they would encounter. I don't know if you've ever written a book or long story, but my experience is that the story seems to develop itself further and firmer once you start the actual writing. And often the story takes a surprising turn through a specific - unplanned - sentence. It twists, turns, rolls around in the head and on paper.

Adding an extra "ingredient" in my SF story is therefore quite easy and a new idea was born. For years I have a title in my head: "Jumpers" - the actual story will explain why this title. I've now added a sub-title to it: Jumpers - a manifest.

Over the years I've learned that telling stories is one of best ways to explain a new concept, a new idea. Contrary to believe; words do sometimes tell more than a picture ;-)

The Experiment

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Writing a story, specially one with an extended purpose, is quite good fun. Side paths can be taken, flash backs used to introduce the history of various characters, two way discussions inserted to explain how and why the characters are worried, excited, doing the things they do etc. A very different method than just writing a "white-paper".

So, how about following this very process yourself? If, of course, you're at all interested in this. But if you are, you can follow the development of the story, the characters and the adventure on my brand new blog: Jumpers - a manifest, where draft chapter by draft chapter will be published (and edited if and when needed).

The first draft chapter went up yesterday, then I discovered I should have called it chapter 1.0, because a first twist already appeared and turned into chapter 1.1 (not published yet). I can't promise how regular the drafts will be published or how often an edited chapter will replace a draft.

You can subscribe to receive an email alert when new material has been published and by all means: leave your comments, thoughts in the comment box of the new blog.

I'm sure I'll be having a great time - and once in a while a bad time - writing my "manifest" with a twist. Come and join the adventures of my characters. I promise there will be some radical business ideas strewn in for good measure!


Carved a niche? Be careful about moving your goalposts!

Especially during a recession.

Two niche suppliers

At the start of 2008 - when according to many the recession started to bite - we had two main suppliers, both having carved out a niche for themselves.
One renowned for its high quality products from its own FSC certified forests in South America, one renowned for its high quality and bespoke parquet products (all from sustainable sources). Both are highly respected companies.

Fast forward to middle 2011: one is laying off its European Sales department, one is working long hours to fulfill all orders before their standard 3 week Summer break.

Moving goalposts 1

In the wooden flooring trade, 2008 also saw an increase of joint-ventures between European manufacturers/wholesalers with manufacturers in China. Some products were not worth the money it costs to produce and ship, many others however were/are of high quality and worth promoting as acceptable "alternatives" to products produced in Europe. A fact appreciated by many independent retailers - like ourselves - to keep the promise to clients: we give you value for money (less money, good quality).

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However, it soon became rather clear that it is China who decides who will get a constant supply of good quality products. And some smaller European manufacturers/wholesalers, after heavy promoting their "alternatives" to their clients, started experiencing stock problems. Not something independent retailers can cope with when times are already tough. No stock or increased leadtimes up to 3 months is often a sale missed.
Then, when larger manufacturers/wholesales come knocking and are able to offer the "goods" and support, the decision for an independent retailer to switch is easy.

Problem was: while the highly respected company with its own unique products tried to jump on the China wagon, the promotion of and focus (quality control included) on their unique products seemed to fall to almost zero. All focus was on the cheaper alternatives. Which in the end resulted in aggravated clients when stock levels turned to zero or to too sporadic and complaints about the quality unique products turned from almost zero to frequent. Special offers on the unique products are not longer believed to have value for money due to doubts on the quality.
Trust becomes a rare item in these matters. And when trust fails, you are looking at a very long and hard battle to turn it around again.

The European Sales Department team members' tasks are added to the National Sales team members. In quick succession we received emails from the team members who had to find (have found) other employment.

Moving goalposts 2

Strange but true: unique products - of high quality - always seem to be in demand, be it in boom or bust times. The only change could be in the quantity, not the quality.

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So offering more varieties of quality unique products is one way to keep the quantities coming in, as long as you keep complete control on the whole production, quality control and shipping yourself. Keeping in constant contact with your clients keeps the quantity of clients on an even level and could (has) result(ed) in more clients. Improving your marketing and support to a high(er) quality allows your clients to "borrow" quality marketing materials to show their own clients.
And this was exactly what our other supplier has done, and then some. They moved the goalpost too, but to higher grounds, taking full advantage of the niche they had already carved out for themselves.

And then when other manufacturers/wholesalers come knocking and are able to offer the "goods" but not the support or commitment, the decision for an independent retailer not to switch is easy.

The production unit is now on a well deserved three week summer break, after having worked full tilt the last two week to fulfill all the orders for bespoke and standard wood floor products that came pouring in after the annual announcement of the summer break. Orders placed in these last two weeks could no longer be guaranteed to be made before the break. And we are one of the businesses who now have to wait until the production restarts to see our order made and shipped.

As our own client stated: "good things come to those who wait" (the company his insurer had hired to supply and install an exact copy of the damaged parquet floor had failed to come up with the bespoke "goods", therefore he had told his insurer he had had enough of standard suppliers and insisted on us supplying and installing the floor.)

Moral of the above...

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Being a great fan of Jim Collins and Co (Good to Great) and strong believer in the "hedge-hog concept" explained in his book, the message in the above experience to me is clear:

If you have carved out a niche for yourself, be very wary and careful when and to where you move your goalposts, they tend to fall down completely if you remove the foundation i.e: swapping your hedgehog concept (keep doing where you can be the best in, has the best long term commercial value for you and your clients, and has your passion) for short term profit.


Dressing down or dressing up? #BNBT

This week's episode of Britain's Next Big Thing brought new developments for some contributors and more insight into the sometimes strange world of big retailers (and business sense of some).

Dressing down the products

It really seems there's a big difference between how the three participating retailers work with their brand new - or soon to be, and for some hopefully soon to be but still unsure - designers and suppliers.

Besides Catherine Gray (of the ceramic brightly coloured vases) it now also became clear that Laura Wellington's Hula would be licensed to Habitat in a dressed down version of only white plastic strips for the light instead of the multi-coloured strips.

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In one of the earlier posts on #bnbt (License to sell) showed that Catherine was happy to take around £900.00 for the pleasure, instead of a higher profit. In this week's episode she told Theo she realised now that in fact she was getting "paid" for high buzz exposure (my translation of what was said).

The same is now happening with Laura.

Both dress down their product to make it an unique item for Habitat, while staying in control over the other versions and where the big retailer takes the risk of the production and the sale of the "unique item". Both are being paid of the numbers produced, not on the numbers sold.

Who's got more control?

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Two other Habitat potential new suppliers (although if you check Habitat's online site you know who's made it) plan to supply the retailer with their own produced products.
Take the Beeble - the best example in this case. Steven Biddulph started by asking £ 85.00 for his foot stool, Habitat is still expecting to pay no more than £ 30.00 per Beeble.

So, Steven keeps tweaking his design - dressing down - to accommodate their demands.
Contrary to the two ladies who take a royalty, will he be able to produce the normal Beeble once the product meets Habitat's purchase price? Where will he find reasons to ask "private" clients a higher price. The only way I can see is varying the cover fabrics, but would that make a sufficient "different" beeble?
My guess is next week we'll see the two parties part:

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The Frog Brackit has made it into Habitat without being dressed down too much. Habitat only wanted a very small change in the frog it self and possible coloured ones (green and brown frogs were being tested during the episode, specially the green one I thought looked quite nice). Debbie Evershed stays firmly in control, and is in my opinion one of the winners of the program.

Although:

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Dressing up

Richard Weston traveled to Como to watch his exquisite scarves being produced next to products of well known brands. He's getting ready to supply Liberty with his scarves and keeps a close eye on the quality and quantity.

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Don't think so Richard. Think it is more down to the authenticity the Italian visit portrait.

Looking forward to next week's episode, the last one in the series. Who will end up in the winner's team, who will fall at the last hurdle? (Of course, this program has been made way before the first episode was aired, keeping your ear - and eye - out on Twitter and Facebook or on the various contributor's websites gives you a decent guess already).


Launch of Selling Online Basics E-guide, thanks #BNBT

The idea of creating this E-guide started when I switched from our desktop ecommerce software to the online software Ecwid (Ecommerce Widgets) for our retail secure webshop (still IMHO one of the better decisions we made).

Until recently this idea just sat on the back-burner. It wasn't until I started watching and writing about BBC's Britain's Next Best Thing (#bnbt) I realised how needed this simple guide really was. The show on fledgling designers and many mumpreneurs made me truly aware of how many other start-ups, work-from-home-persons, I-have-an-idea-lets-build-a-website youngsters and semi-retired baby boomers could be around.

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What BNBT also showed us (me in any case) is how little aware many still are on free online programs they can use to start an Ecommerce Venture without having to break the bank and/or without having to know in-depth knowledge of software. You don't have to wait til a high street retailer decides to stock your product before you can start selling, nor do you have to dress down your product or idea to accommodate high street retailers desired purchase price. Just launch the darn product!

So thank you, #BNBT of kicking me into higher gear and finish the "darn" thing in double quick time:

The basics, right here

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There are more Ecommerce sites being launched every single day than there are premises being opened for "old-fashion" retail outlets. More and more articles, blog-posts, magazine and even books are written on the rising tide of businesses selling products online. But none, or very few, will hand you the simple steps to launch your own Ecommerce site.

This guide will.

No need for:

  • an existing email address
  • an existing website
  • an existing webshop
  • PDQ equipment (to handle incoming payments)
  • an existing money-pot to pay for software to start selling online

All you need is:

  • your product, even if it is just one single product, be it digital or physical
  • internet access
  • passion about your product(s)
  • some writing skills to pass on your passion to your prospects
  • this guide

This guide is for:

  • work-at-home people with a ready product, by it digital or physical
  • existing start-ups without a foot in the door of existing retailers
  • hobbyist planning to turn their hobby into a sustainable income
  • people from 16 years old (due to some age limits software companies have implemented) to lively and entrepreneurial pensioners
  • anyone already using PayPal's "buy now" buttons or PayPal shopping cart and who finds this too limiting
  • anyone who knows their (new) product will excite others
  • anyone just wanting to empty their attic or garden shed but don't like Ebay
  • anyone without html coding knowledge, seo knowledge, web-design knowledge
  • anyone who wants to start selling online in one single day (half a day even)

It will hand you the online tools to start selling, it does not promise you'll be rich within a day - or a week, it's a tool guide, not a "get-rich-quick" scheme.

Who am I to write this guide?

Together with my partner I run an independent specialised retail business, he does the installation of the quality wooden flooring I sell. Besides the selling of our products through our showroom I manage our website, blog, ecommerce site and all other web marketing. Single-handedly - without an IT department, without an IT manager, even without an IT background or college grade.

However, I only use software programs that comes with an excellent customer support, be it with their documentation, training videos or email support. Some even come with their own users forum or twitter account for instant help.

The four online software programs (all award winning software) I will be discussing in this guide are free, and still have superb support available. Why? Because 3 of these programs have fee-paying account levels too. It's the principle of these companies to help you out from the start and they make no difference if you pay for your account or have a free account. Simply said: they hope you will love using their program so much you eventually become a paying customer once you realise how many more benefits a higher account level can give you. That's how I got to know all the ins and outs of the programs in this guide and on most I'm now a fee paying customer.
But for starters, the free versions are all you need to get started selling online.

The fourth free program is quite different, it has related programs - some free, some "pay-as-you-go" - you might become interested in later. The fifth essential online program you need is one of the so-called "pay-when-you-sell", no fees upfront or fixed monthly contribution.

Because of managing the webmarketing "single-handedly", I started to see/learn/experience how programs can be combined to become bigger than their own parts. None of these programs on its own will give you a complete ecommerce site, but by cleverly combining them you'll have absolutely everything you need to start selling your product or products online. Since more and more online software programs are able to "talk" to each other the combining (or linking them together) has become easier than ever.

This guide will focus on how to sell your product online as simple, quickly and easy as possible. It is therefore not an in-depth guide on all four individual programs. The title of this guide is called "Selling Online Basics" for a reason, it gives you instantly what you need to get the basics to start selling your product/products online. Later on you can dive into the single programs yourself to see what else they can do, but the "basics" is all you need for the moment. And all of these basics are covered in this guide.

So, what's in the guide?

  • An introduction to all the programs you need, the reason(s) why you can start with the free version (if applicable) and how to upgrade to a higher account level of the programs (if applicable for you).
  • A logical sequence of opening accounts for the free version of the online software programs you're going to use for your Ecommerce site (online presence).
  • Step by step screen shots of what you will see and need to do during the opening of these accounts
  • Extra information on the programs, but only if and when relevant to the essence of Selling Online Basics
  • How to combine/link the programs together into one effective working Ecommerce presence without the need to enter data all over again in separate programs.
  • An "if you already have..." per chapter, giving you shortcuts for the whole process
  • An extensive reference section for additional tactics and advice at the end of the guide to help you become a successful ecommerce business. (Remember, this guide only covers the online "basics" - but all of the basics you need.)

This guide starts on the premise of not having any the tools yet. Some tools, such as an email address, everyone might already have in place. Then still, it might be very handy, for a one-off product for instance or testing a brand new range, to sign up with the free version of the online tool discussed in this guide.

It's the simple combination power between the programs which makes the whole selling online process so simple and effective!

Karin H - proprietor of 1 Plus 1 Makes 3, managing director Wood You Like Ltd


License to sell? #BNBT

This week's 4th episode of Britain's Next Big Thing was often "interrupted" in our house due to lively discussion between me and my partner. Sure means it is an interesting program, but some items!!!

Poor retailer

Theo Paphitis boxing with profit

Mr retail himself Theo Paphitis used boxes to explain how little profit a retailer ended up with, just a measly 5% if the buyers got it right. Dear of dear me. Poor retailer.
According to Theo the numbers for the poor retailer works as follows:

  • 50% of turnover minus VAT goes to purchasing of the products (now that's quite odd, especially with Habitat and their shocking maths, remember the Beeble? - 40% tops, so where's the remaining 10%, hidden profit?)
  • 20% to overheads, such as utilities, rent etc
  • 15% to staff - on the shop floor
  • 10% to storage, logistics, marketing and the wages for buyers and inhouse designers.
  • 5% is "all" that's left for profit (I guess it is more like 15%, see note above on costs of sales)

Easily forgetting that the larger the retailer, the higher the total overheads are - the economy of large numbers. Besides, the 5% profit is more often than not for the shareholders, like Dragon's Den man Theo and his colleagues.

Poor Mr retailer Theo Paphitis

So, does this really explain why the big high street retailers squeeze their suppliers that much and hard?
Small, independent retailers work quite differently, lower mark up, lower overheads, higher % of nett profit - if they work smart. And establish a fair relationship with their suppliers at the same time.

(Side-note: the VAT man does not take a part from your profit; every VAT registered business acts as a collector of the Value Added Tax, deducting any VAT they pay themselves from the VAT their clients pay. And why were the buyers and in-house designers of the poor retailer grouped in a different class than the floor staff when it comes to their wages/pay?).

Supplier or royalties?

Catherine Gray's ceramic vases destined for Habitat

One of the contributors for Habitat is Catherine Gray with her ceramic vases, made in her own studio. She's selling them for as high as £ 195.00 a piece - giving her a £ 75.00 profit per vase, but Habitat is eager to sell them for £ 30.00 - wow. Problem there you would think, this retail price means the vases are made at a loss if Catherine produces every single one herself (her largest order to date has been 16 pieces) or... licensed by Catherine to habitat to have them mass produced in Italy.

The mass produced vases (for which Catherine will receive £ 0.30 per vase) will differ from the unique, produced in the UK in her own studio for her private clients in order for both parties to do "their own thing" without competing with each other.
Not much profit in there you think? Well, that depends how you look at it. Catherine has no costs, liability or risk to take with licensing her "habitat" vase, but receives £ 0.30 royalty per Habitat vase, plus - as she states herself - being recognised as an official Habitat desginer comes with its own kudos: almost free marketing for her other, more personal, bespoke vases. Which she can produce and sell for as much as her private clients are willing to pay for. Deal.

If you saw Charlotte Sale struggling to get the order out for Liberty you might wonder why she doesn't go the same way and license one - or more - products the same way, stopping the risk of making the unique glass pieces without a profit (due to the number of "faulty" ones). However, Liberty is quite a different beast than Habitat, with only one store (a very prestigious one at that) and giving their suppliers a fair deal.
This was also confirmed by Richard Weston, the professor of architecture and creator of colourful and amazing scarves with blown-up prints of minerals.

Richard Weston's mineral scarves going to Liberty

He's now - in his own words - at risk making an earning from his business and stands to make £ 1,500.00 profit on supplying the first 100 scarves to Liberty

Both new Liberty suppliers stay producers, in control of production with its own risks, which does come with larger profits.

Then there's Boots

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The retailer in BNBT with the most outlets, which prompted Theo to give us some more pointers on the economy of large numbers when getting your product into one of the High street "giants". The other two could sell 100 of your product for £100.00 - netting £ 10.000 turnover (the retailers, not you), where as Boots could sell 250.000 of your £ 1.00 products - netting £ 250.000 turnover (Boots, not you).

It's the low priced items Boots is after, which became very clear when their teenage testing groups were shown the It's All About Me teenage skin care products:

It's all about me skin care, it's the packaging not the ingredients

The older teenagers didn't like the packaging, would pay no more than £ 2 - £ 3 for it, not the £ 6.00 Elaine Weston had set. The packaging, according to Boots teenager didn't make it look professional or trustworthy enough to do what it said on the tin.

Boots buyers' comment to Elaine after the test with the teenagers was completed: you'll have to find cheaper ingredients, they are not willing to pay the price for it you want.

Eh? It's the packaging stupid, not the ingredients! Fortunately Elaine refused to change her ingredients to comply with Boots request. Not sure if Boots mentioned the real reason this - none-target - group was not willing to pay more for it, otherwise a completely different discussion would have taken place: are you willing to change the marketing, the labeling to make it more attractive to this group?

Talking about labeling:

stickers on Charlotte Sale's expensive glass vessels instead of appropriate labels

Looking forward to the next episode of #BNBT, more and more convinced some of the contributors will make a very good deal (while keeping in control) and others will, I'm afraid, not see beyond the kudos of getting that foot in the door.

As for the E-guide "Selling Online Basics - SO-basic: being a small independent retailer (lower mark-up, lower overheads, higher % of nett profit) with all the tasks that come with it - all joyfully excecuted every day - does limit the "free" time I can spend on it at the moment, but the end is near. So, stay tuned (for BNBT and more news on the E-guide).

UPDATE 19.05.11: "Selling Online Basics" officially launched!


BNBT update - for sale!

After my wonderings (why so many seem to be so eager to get a foot in the door at large retailers) of the last two weeks on Britain's Next Big Thing, an update on various contributors to the program.

Although there is economy in large numbers (sold through big retailers), never forget the "economy of profit in smaller numbers"

Beeble

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Straight from the designer's own online website, and priced according his own expressed wishes during BNBT #3 (normally £ 200.00 - now with 25% off, but with the profit in smaller numbers).

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Hula for sale at Habitat

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"Habitat Hula" at a price of £ 230.00 (where Laura sold her original Hula direct to her clients for £ 300.00)

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No online shop available to buy direct from Laura Wellington

SunSnoozer

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For sale online. all 1500 of them! Through Baby Beamers own online shop, Jojo Maman Bebe and.... Amazon.co.uk for £ 24.99 (ex P&P)
(SunSnoozer not to be confused with the black SnoozeShade from another mum + designer)

It's not the price that's always more important

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Always love to see these statistics on Amazon.co.uk - puts paid to the myth that everyone always makes their buying decision based on price alone.

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Frog BracKit

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For sale on Debbie Evershed's own Frog BracKit website
(which home page "jumps" all over the place and is missing various very basic SEO items, such as page titles - not a great advertisement for the web designer The Design Complex, who shows the Frog BracKit as their Featured design, oh dear. For the webshop itself I would have chosen the free version of Ecwid, not the Shopify "pay-when-you-sell" program - but that's for another post, not here - UPDATE 03.05.11: someone's been paying attention, pages on Frog BacKit now all have names ;-))

Prices and kits

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Price for the Frog BracKit £ 18.00 (frog shaped bracket only), the various kits containing the bars and hooks start from £ 18.59 to £ 34.54

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At Habitat (confused!)

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The Frog Kit is for sale in the Habitat online shop, but rather confusingly the bars and hooks can't seem to be found straight from the essential product.
(Originally found the Frog Kit through Google, can't figure out in which category in the habitat online shop it is listed - they don't seem to be using simple "bread-crumbs", just major categories)
Tried a product search on Frog It to see if the bar and hook kits were listed somewhere else only to find this result:

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Frog Bracket or Frog BracKit gives the same 0 result.
Then I tried "Frog" and up they came:

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Not a very user friendly experience I must say. It's like hiding the "latest product with a buzz" deep at the back of the store.

Frog itself, cheaper than on The Frog BracKit site, but combining the sets of same length bars makes any ready packed kit still cheaper IMHO. (the lengths above do not actually read 141.5 cm but l (as in length) 41.5 cm)

Tracy Wood Products

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Now, that's a great sight for sore eyes ;-)
No wonder Tracy tweets:

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Although, her website could do with some better SEO too - again the page titles are missing, what's so difficult for a web designer - Vosweb - to do this little simple thingy?

Conclusion

The three big retailers are attractive for suppliers/designers to sell (hoping to sell) larger numbers of their products. BNBT gives them a higher profile, and I sincerely hope their own websites and online selling takes off or improves as a result. My fear with new buzz products is always: how long are they the Next Big Thing at these big retailers? And then what?

The websites I've seen today could all do with improvement though - even the Habitat one, but that's not my objective - from the most simple SEO Meta tags to simpler and cheaper shopping carts.
Upwards and onwards with my guide, it's great fun and exciting at the same time bringing 4 free (plus 1 "pay-when-you-sell") online software programs together to help small businesses with the "economy of profit in smaller numbers".


To retail or ecommerce

BBC has a new "business" program: Britain's Next Big Thing - launched last week. MR RETAIL himself, Theo Paphitis follows a group of small businesses, some working from their own kitchen or workshop, when they try to have their products accepted on the shelves of 3 big retailers: Liberty, Boots and Habitat

Boots

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This week's episode showed 10 hopefuls venturing in to Boots HQ. The one that amazed me most, just by one single revelation, was Tracy Wood, producing eczema ointment in her own kitchen in New Haven.

(Her story could have been my mum's story. Not that my mum created a natural product to ease eczema and walked into a big retailers HQ, more her story about also having a very young baby - me - with atopic eczema and the natural remedies she tried to ease this skin problem with. Sea salt and soft soap (groene zeep) for years and years. Boy, these remedies didn't half sting! But they did ease the eczema: sea salt - swimming in the North sea every single day during the summer holidays - and soft soap, rubbed - really rubbed! - in my skin during the winter months.)

During a quick take showing Theo and Tracy she revealed she was already selling the product, due to existing clients recommending her product to others.

"I've must have sold around 70.000+ jars from my own kitchen already."

Holy-smoke, that's a big buzz - even Theo was impressed.

I understand the image of having your own product on the shelves of one of Britain's biggest health and beauty care retailers gives - and at this point in the series it is still not known if Tracy will succeed in this - but 70.000+ sold already without any noticeable branding is IMHO quite an achievement.
(Looking at Tracy's website, which loads terrible slow and is kind of off-kilter I don't think this site generates many new contacts - Quirk SearchStatus only shows back links from her own domain and a single one from 123people, Google doesn't list a single link coming in. Her Facebook page has 2 posts and 30 members and I guess she just started on Twitter, first tweet of the 26 in total was 16.03.11, so hardly any Social Media presence at the moment).

Quantity in products or quality in profit?

So even without a decent web presence her natural products have created such a buzz among her clients, she's managed to sell 70.000+ single items.
Of course, this on its own does not make a new product Britain's' Next Big Thing - having 100 units of your product in every Boots shop would mean you have to at least produce 200.000 units. And of course there's economics in producing big quantities but how about the quality in profit on those same 200.000 units? My - and I think anyone's - guess is that Boots would take the biggest profit from it.

Tracy is only one of the many persons working from a small unit - kitchen, workshop, bedroom - nowadays. And not many will make it "on to the shelves" of Britain's biggest retailers. But in these days of the long tail, easy internet access and free software programs to help you market and sell your products online I'm wondering why many would still opt for increased quantities versus reduced profits in absurd large numbers of units?

Last night's broadcast gave me an extra incentive to create this new guide I have had in mind for the last few weeks "Selling Online Basics" with a bit more haste ;-)
There's a lot of people out there with great products that could do with a simple but effective step by step guide showing them how to keep the full profit in their own pocket.


Recharge - Rework

When we moved home last June we closed the showroom on Sundays - before we only had to cross the road, now it is a 10 minute drive. Thinking I would find more time to write on these now leisure days - even wrote about it here - things turned out differently, even after the weather turned and no more Sundays spent in the sunny garden or on walks (to the local pub - a walk of 25 minutes on its own).

Recharge Sundays

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On dark and wet Sundays of late I did write, but not as presumed for this blog. Marketing projects and ideas for our business took prevalence over general ponderings on business. Plus I rekindled my baking hobby!

There's nothing more satisfying than plunging your hands in sticky bread dough. No cheating with a bread machine here. Experimenting with ingredients, with temperatures and baking time takes your mind of the tasks and sometimes worries of the working days. I've come to call these days my recharging Sundays. It is a known fact that when you stop thinking about matters that occupy your mind normally, ideas, solutions and aha moments seem to pup up in the more relaxed mind of busy people. It recharges the battery, and you start the week revitalised (and with home made bread in the lunch box with as treat a slice of raisin and current bread!)

There are Sundays the only thing that enter my head is the lovely sweet smell of fresh muffins or biscuits (the Dutch spiced biscuits spekulaas as current favourite).
Might even write a (e)book on the subject"Recharge Sundays", filled with little tips and recipes for other retail and trade businesses like us, working 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It might just changed the way they think about work, it has changed mine (for the better),

Which brings me nicely to the book review I'd planned to write months ago:

ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever

second book by 37Signal owners Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

Bite-size snippets of wisdom where almost none of the chapters is longer than 1.5 pages. And at the same tine showing/teaching you everything about being in business a MBA graduate adviser tells you not to do. If you want to start or grow/improve your business it is a must read, you will worry less and succeed sooner.

Example:

Don't Write It Down (page 164)
How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't. Listen, but then forget what people said. Seriously.
There's no need for a spreadsheet, database, or filing system. The requests that really matter are the ones you'll hear over and over. After a while you won't be able to forget them. Your customers will be your memory. They'll keep reminding you. They'll show you which things you truly need to worry about.
If there's a request that you keep forgetting, that's a sign that it isn't very important. The really important stuff doesn't go away.

Another snippet (from the introduction): They - the critics - say you need to sell to the Fortune 500. Screw that. We sell to the Fortune 5,000,000
Another gem of advise can be found in Building to flip is building to flop (page 59): you need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy.

Some books should b e compulsory reading, when we opened a business account with Barclay we received Kick-Start Your Business: 100 Days to a Leaner, Fitter Organisation (Virgin Business Guides) by Robert Craven. Where Robert's book gives you plenty of practicalbusiness advise on starting/running your business, Rework should be added to any new business account opening package for the sake of business attitude and long term strategy.

Let me give you some further chapter tittles to wet your appetite:

  • Out-teach your competition
  • Press releases are spam
  • The myth of the overnight sensation
  • Don't scar on the first cut (side note for UK readers: this is where the Big Society Idea is all about IMHO)
  • Start a business, not a start-up
  • Learning from mistakes is overrated
  • Enough with "Entrepreneurs" (side-note: Robert Craven should read this, he will have a field day ;-))
  • Mission statement impossible
  • Go to sleep
  • Let your customers outgrow you
  • Decisions are temporary

Go on, you know you want to read this, if it is only to fulfill your curiosity to find out what's behind the chapter tittles. And curiosity is a great characteristic to have as business person.